In a web-based text, by virtue of active participation
in selecting links, readers are forced to look at the structure or form
of the text rather than through it and to consider how the form is part
of the message. According to Bolter (1991), if the form does not contribute
to or enhance the message, but merely presents the content in a generic
way, then the formal design is a waste of the new writing space afforded
by the medium. A formal or form-based enactment of the content occurs when
the organizational structure of the web-based text demonstrates and/or
reinforces the content of the text. Some examples of the form enacting
the content include: a web-based text designed as a Wiki that discusses
the use of Wikis in writing classrooms; a
specifically structured web-based text that argues for the importance of
orientation in navigational design and uses the same design to guide navigation
of the text; or a web-based and/or new media text that incorporates multimedia
elements in order to argue for the power of multimedia to create or enhance
meaning in a text. Content can also be enacted through a unique interface
metaphor, in other words, a framing device distinct from a common book or
other print paradigmatic form, that contributes to the impact and memory
of the argument—an allowance that cannot easily be replicated in print-based
In addition to the potential for formal enactment of
content, web-based texts often incorporate a rationale that explains the
formal design of the text and how the text enacts the content. This rationale
is usually included in a textual overview or introduction to the text (see
the following section regarding navigation design). The formal design of
a print-based text is determined by well-known generic conventions to a
point at which the form, again, becomes transparent—something to look “through.” The
form enhances meaning by meeting familiar expectations. The design of a web-based
text, on the other hand, has the potential to be non-conventional, unexpected,
and unique. An explanation of the formal structure of the text helps to support
the meaning behind the structure and the way in which it enhances the content.
It is important to note that web-based texts are still relatively new; as
these structures become more common and more familiar, a rationale for the
design, which has emerged as a convention of web-based writing, may eventually
become unnecessary. Question 6 in Category B of the assessment tool considers
the extent to which the webtext develops a more significant form/content
relationship as well as the presence within the webtext of an explicit rationale
for the text’s formal design.
Question 6: Form/content relationship
a) Form/content fit
- The form of the webtext enacts the content.
- The form of the webtext presents the content.
b) Rationale for the formal design
- The webtext includes an explicit statement regarding the formal design
of the text.
- The webtext does not include an explicit statement regarding the formal
design of the text.